As I write this, we are two weeks from Thanksgiving in the Fall 2020 semester. The Fall 2020 semester is the second semester of our “new normal” at Texas State Technical College. Some of our lectures moved online if it was possible. However, we soon discovered that not all topics are best delivered in an online format.
Our technical courses are divided up into lecture and lab hours with most being a “2-hour lecture, 4-hour lab” format. This was done several years ago to align campuses and courses with other colleges offering the same program in our state. In practice, however, it does not work out as simply as some topics are “watch one, do one” or demonstration heavy. We still meet virtually as a large group but there is definitely further explaining to be done in lab time. Our labs are divided into 10 student sections, which means instructors have heavy loads. In fact, in Spring 2021, all of our instructors are scheduled to be in class 30-35 hours per week. This, of course, is not sustainable for more than a semester or two as instructors will burn out and administration will not continue to pay overtime.
As of now, we have had several students who have had to quarantine because they either were exposed to COVID or they had it themselves. At the end of last semester, I was out for two weeks because my wife had it. Flexibility has been the key. We still have to achieve outcomes and sometimes that requires creative ways to get that accomplished.
We have been encouraged this semester to wrap things up by Thanksgiving if that is possible. For some classes, it will not be possible and that is fine, but we are worried about another campuswide shutdown as several of the local high schools and middle schools have already moved to an all online environment because of a skyrocketing number of positive cases locally. As of today in our county, there are 273 new cases. This is up from approximately 40 new cases a day just a month ago.
On the bright side, we were able to acquire some new machines using federal money to alleviate crowding around one machine. For example, our ultrasound class typically uses four machines. We now have six ultrasound machines (thank you, Avante!). This means that students are not required to triple up on one machine. In fact, because the labs are limited to 10 students each, every student is benefiting from more time on machines, more hands on learning and more individual time with instructors.
The introductory course in our program is meant to explore different aspects of the career such as types of employers, certification, hospital organization and an introduction to some types of equipment. This course was all face-to-face in the past but it is now online because of the number of students typically enrolled (this semester we had 47 instead of the usual 65). Normally there are a few students that drop the course for different reasons (financial, changing programs, etc.) but this semester several got behind early on and had to drop for academic reasons. Some just do not like the online format. We will probably lose about 14 first-semester students this semester because of the online format.
This introductory course being virtual has brought a couple of benefits, however.
Students have more time to complete coursework. And, more importantly, we have been able to have some online guests stop in for a Google Meet with them (Thank you, Rhiannon!). This excites them and seems to go a long way in keeping their motivation high.
Internships are slowly coming back and the bottleneck is ending. Placement has been excellent thanks to you! Hopefully, the next time I write this column, we will be past the worst of this pandemic and things will change again. I will not say that life will ever go back to the way it used to be. Some of the changes caused by COVID will be permanent … but in a good way.
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